When it comes to the debate of animal protein vs. plant protein, there are a lot of misconceptions on both sides. Some people believe that animal protein is the only type that can provide all the essential amino acids our bodies need. Others think animal proteins are unnecessary since all those essential amino acids can actually be found in plant-based sources. The truth is that both animal and plant proteins are important for good health. Which is best for you will depend on your diet, lifestyle and health goals.
This article will discuss some of the differences between animal and plant proteins, how they each affect the body and where we can find them. We’ll touch on everything from steak dinners to post-workout plant-based protein powder. Let’s get started on animal vs. plant protein!
Understanding Amino Acids
When it comes to the animal vs. plant protein debate, much of it centers around amino acids. Knowing more about them will help you make better food choices and establish firm conclusions based on facts to help you live a healthy lifestyle.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins essential for survival. They can be found in both animal and plant proteins. Still, there’s a difference between the types of amino acids you’ll encounter in these two sources. Animal proteins tend to contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the human body. In contrast, plant proteins typically lack one or more of them.
To put it simply, the body needs 20 amino acids to survive and thrive. Eleven can be created naturally by our bodies. The other nine, called essential amino acids, must be consumed.
Animal protein has traditionally been considered more complete, as it contains all of the essential amino acids. When we eat animal protein, our bodies break these proteins down into the amino acids they include and then use them to build new proteins used for fuel and cell growth.
Animal protein is typically high in saturated fat, but it contains many health benefits when consumed in moderation. In addition to being a good source of complete protein, many animal products are also high in:
● Iron, helps the blood carry oxygen throughout the body.
● Coenzyme Q10, is needed for cells to function correctly and create energy.
● Vitamin B12, helps maintain proper nerve function.
● Omega 3 fatty acids, which support brain and heart health.
● Iodine, helps regulate metabolism and thyroid function.
● Zinc, supports a robust immune system and healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Common sources of healthy animal protein include:
● Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
● Lean cuts of beef, chicken, and pork
● Whitefish such as halibut, cod, and tilapia
● Oily fish such as salmon, trout, and herring
● Shellfish like shrimp, clams, and oysters
● Whey protein powder.
In contrast to animal protein, plant proteins are often considered incomplete, as they lack one or more essential amino acids. This may be a drawback in some situations, but it doesn’t make plant proteins less beneficial. On the contrary, research has shown that consuming mostly or only plant-based protein can be perfectly healthy and safe.
To ensure you’re getting all essential amino acids from plant protein sources alone is as simple as blending them. Combining proteins is a practice known as “complementary protein,” or pairing together foods that provide all essential amino acids for the body. Simply put, where some plant-based protein sources might lack one essential amino acid, others will be rich in it.
For example, grains such as rice and oats lack the amino acid lysine, but they’re high in methionine. Likewise, legumes like beans and lentils lack methionine, but they’re rich in lysine. By pairing the two, you’ll create a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids.
In addition to being good sources of protein, a diet fueled by plants will afford you the following benefits:
● Increased fiber intake, which helps lower cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, and promotes regular bowel movements.
● Higher intake of antioxidants, which fight free radicals that contribute to chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
● Lower levels of saturated fat, can lead to cardiovascular disease.
● More of the essential vitamins and minerals needed for good health.
Common sources of plant-based protein include:
● Quinoa, is beneficial as it also contains all essential amino acids.
● Hemp seeds, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and provide all essential amino acids.
● Legumes such as lentils, black beans, and pinto beans.
● Nuts like almonds, peanuts, and pistachios.
● Seeds like chia seeds, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds.
● Tofu, which offers all essential amino acids.
● Plant-based protein powder made from brown rice, peas, and soy.
Protein Intake and Digestive Health
Regardless of whether you’re sourcing your protein from animals or plants, it’s essential to know that you won’t be able to get all of the nutrients from your food without a properly functioning digestive system. So if you’re struggling with digestive problems, here are a few things you can do to boost your digestive health:
● Eat more fermented foods, like kefir, yogurt, and miso soup. These are rich in beneficial bacteria that can help normalize your digestive system.
● Eat more prebiotics, a soluble fiber that boosts the good bacteria in your gut. Some great sources of prebiotics are whole grains, onions, garlic, and bananas.
● Increase your intake of probiotics, which are good bacteria that will help control the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut. Some great sources are yogurt, sauerkraut, and dark chocolate.
● Use natural digestive enzyme supplements containing protein-digesting enzymes to aid your gut health. These will increase your absorption of essential amino acids and specific vitamins, meaning you’ll get much more out of the protein you eat.
● Make use of nutrient and nutritional supplements that will increase energy, vitality, and performance to ensure your digestive system has the support it needs to function properly.
A properly functioning digestive system is crucial for your overall well-being, so be sure to do all you can to maintain it and keep the toxins and harmful bacteria at bay.
The Final Word on Animal vs. Plant Protein
As you can see, both animal and plant proteins have their place. Animal proteins are typically more complete, as they provide all essential amino acids needed by the body for good health. Plant-based proteins are rich in fiber, antioxidants and other beneficial vitamins and minerals that contribute to better overall health. Whether you go for one, the other, or both, the important thing is to ensure you’re getting high-quality, complete protein from various nutritionally rich sources to make the most of your diet.